Smith & Wesson’s Little Rimfire.
For the millions of rimfire shooters who burn through billions of .22 rimfire cartridges every year, there is a story to be told—the 19th century story of the development of the world’s most popular cartridge which also can claim to be the oldest rimfire and most useful cartridge still in existence. The story revolves around three main players: Louis Nicholas Flobert (1819-1894), Horace Smith (1808-1893) and Daniel Baird Wesson (1825-1906). Each played a significant role in not only the development of the rimfire cartridge but in the design of the firearms that chambered it.
Louis Flobert was a French gunsmith who took the percussion cap, reformed it a bit with a slight rim, added a 5.5 to 6mm round, lead ball to the mouth of the cap and filed a series of patents from 1845 to 1849 that clearly documented the progressive development of his metallic, self-contained cartridges. The percussion cap was the key. Without the Rev.
Alexander Forsyth’s earlier work with concussion-fired fulminating compounds and the development of the percussion cap as we know it, Flobert would not have had his cartridge. What the development of the modern metallic cartridge required and what the percussion cap provided was self-contained ignition.
In the Flobert percussion-cap-based cartridge, the priming compound was spread across the inside of the head of the case so Flobert designed smoothbore pistols and rifles that featured a raised rib extending across the face of the hammer—a broad, fixed firing pin so to speak. Since Flobert’s little round balls were propelled only by a priming charge, generating minimum pressure, he relied on the weight of the hammer and the strength of the hammer spring to seal the chamber as the cartridge was fired.
Flobert’s simple firearms, firing low cost ammunition, were a tremendous success in Europe where shooting was much in vogue. Since the combination provided shooters the opportunity to practice their sport indoors, the Flobert pistols were commonly referred to as “parlor or saloon pistols.”
By Holt Bodinson
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